Starting something new.
It’s a place of excitement and terror that every artist knows intimately.
It happens to us all. We effectively finish one project, be it a manuscript or a performance or a work of art, and we know we’ve gotta get going on something new. In fact, the process of thinking about something new often takes place while we’re in the midst of another project.
It can be frustrating, especially if you’re a Type A personality like me. You want to see a certain project to its fullest. Logically, you reason that all of your time and energy must be devoted to that specific project to the exclusion of everything else. But, perhaps, you’re the kind of creator that does keep everything in a regimented order. Once one project has reached completion, you’re completely at ease to set it aside and start on the next one.
Regardless of where you fall, I’ve found that most creators know when a certain project is finished and they need to start something new, in earnest.
It’s both exhilarating and frightening.
Exhilarating because you’re at the beginning of something. An endless road of possibilities stretches out before you. How will a certain idea branch into other ideas? What materials will you need to source and how much time should you devote to completion? Are you considering other collaborators along the way and, if so, when might they get involved? The beginning of a project is all possibilities.
But that can also lead to paralysis. Questions, filled with doubt and apprehension, flow alongside those of excitement on what’s to come. Is this project too big to succeed? Has this project been done before by someone you think is better or more talented? Do you lack the time or resources or experience to really execute it right?
In the wake of my most recent project, probably my most successful artistic endeavor, I’ve found myself wrestling with an altogether unwelcome fear. It’s one I know many artists have confronted in their careers. That fear, and the associated question, keeps sounding off in the back of mind: is that all I’ve got?
As a theatre artist, I face this apprehension all of the time. It’s tricky creating for the performing arts. First, it can be arduous to make. Many hours are spent rewriting both alone and in the company of others. Then there’s the rehearsing (again and again). All of it builds, showcasing in front of an audience who experience it once or maybe twice. Then, after the run is over, that magic disappears.
The performing arts are transitory in a way that can hit creators like a bad breakup. But creators who make something that’s permanent—say a published book or a canvas on the wall—might have an even steeper hill to climb when starting afresh. How do I measure up to what’s come before? Despite what others might say, it’s near impossible not to compare what you’ve created beforehand to what you’re about to make. The task is that much harder when confronted with the blank page, the blank canvas or the empty rehearsal hall or studio.
But in my experience, the best way of taking the pressure off both the sense of impermanence and the weight of past achievements is to get busy on something new.
I go through this process every autumn. Most of the grant deadlines I find myself trying meet typically fall around this time. So, my mind is always on the next project in the pipeline. Thankfully, the inclination that my new work will never be as good as my last doesn’t stick around. If I’m honest, the exhilaration of starting something new—of starting all over again—just holds too much promise. And imagining the road ahead is a lot of fun.
In my job as a college writing tutor, I very often work with students just starting work on a project with which they’re deeply afraid. A research paper. An argumentative essay. A class presentation. They all have questions of how to start. The first thing I always tell them is to write everything down. Every idea, every step, every obstacle or milestone they foresee.
Look at white sheet of paper or the empty document or blank canvas and see the possibilities and write them down. Only by giving a name to the various destinations does the road ahead start to make sense.
And starting over gives you something more. . .a place to start.